Iraqi president rejects provincial elections law

By Waleed Ibrahim

BAGHDAD, July 23 (Reuters) – President Jalal Talabani on Wednesday rejected a provincial election law as unconstitutional after Iraq’s Kurdish lawmakers boycotted the parliament session that ratified it.

The controversial law must now be subject to another parliamentary vote and pass by even greater majority, raising the prospect that elections scheduled to be held on October 1 may have to be delayed until 2009.

Iraq’s parliament passed the bill on Tuesday in the absence of Kurdish legislators who disagreed with provisions on how to handle voting in the disputed, multi-ethnic oil city of Kirkuk. Kurds make up one of three main parliamentary groups.

Talabani’s three-member presidency council must ratify each law passed by parliament.

“The president, who is guided by the principle of consensus between the three factions (in parliament), cannot accept this law, which infringes that principle … and violates the constitution,” the statement said.

The elections will provide early clues on how Iraq’s Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish factions and other minority groups will fare in parliamentary elections, scheduled for 2009 — polls that will determine if Maliki himself will remain power.

Analysts say the polls will also be the battleground for a fierce power struggle among sectarian and ethnic parties that could redraw the country’s political map.

President Talabani, a Kurd, came under intense pressure from the Kurdish alliance to which he belongs not to ratify the bill.

“We call upon … the president to confront these suspect projects that don’t serve Iraqi agendas and aim at hindering the national democratic course,” the government of Iraq’s largely autonomous region of Kurdistan said in a statement on Tuesday.

The issue of Kirkuk has proved especially divisive, with a dispute simmering between Kurds who say the city should belong to the largely autonomous Kurdistan region and Arabs who want it to stay under central government authority.

Analysts say a bill without backing from the Kurds, who hold 58 of parliament’s 275 seats, would not be seen as legitimate.

The law would have postponed voting in Kirkuk and it included an article carving out fixed seat allocations to each ethnic or sectarian group, so voting is between individual candidates from those groups. Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen get 10 seats each. Minority Christians get two.

Kurds rejected these provisions and were also against a proposal to vote on them by secret ballot.

(Reporting by Khalid al-Ansary; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)